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For other uses, see Taiko (disambiguation).
Miya Daiko drum - Taiko drums.jpg
An example of a taiko drum, called a chū-daiko.
Percussion instrument
Other names wadaiko, taiko drum
Classification unpitched percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 211.222.1
(Single membranophones in which the membrane is struck directly, which have tubular, barrel-shaped bodies and two usable membranes.)
Inventor(s) Unknown; instruments are similar to ones from Korea and China. Specific drums are similar to ones from India and other cultures. Likely introduced to Japan by Korean and Chinese cultural influence between 300–900 CE.[1]
Developed Unknown; archaeological evidence shows usage on the Japanese archipelago as early as 6th century CE.[1]
(video) Several drummers perform a traditional pattern on a taiko drum at a summer festival in Japan.

Taiko (太鼓?) are a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments. Within Japan, the term refers to any kind of drum, but outside Japan, the term is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums called wadaiko (和太鼓?) and to the form of ensemble taiko drumming more specifically called kumi-daiko (組太鼓?, lit. "drum collection"). The process of constructing taiko varies between manufacturers, but must include the making and shaping of a drum body, choosing a skin for the drum head, and carefully stretching the skin over the drum head to create appropriate tension.

Taiko have a mythological origin in Japanese folklore and appears to be a drumming style of Japanese origin. Historical writings documented young Japanese men being sent to Korea to study specially the drumming of kakko, a drum from Southern China. The drums are similar to the instruments found in Korea and China from shape to ornament. Taiko is believed to have been introduced to Japan through Korean and Chinese cultural influence between 300–900 CE. Some taiko drums are similar to ones from India, Thailand, Vietnam and other cultures, which suggests a Southern Asia influence on the set of instruments. Archaeological evidence suggests that taiko have existed in Japan as far back as the Kofun period. Their function has varied through history, ranging from communication, military action, theatrical accompaniment, religious ceremony, festival performances, and entertainment. In contemporary times, taiko drums have been the basis for certain social movements for minorities both within and outside Japan.

The tradition of kumi-daiko in Japan, characterized by an ensemble playing on different drums, can be traced back to 1951 through the work of Daihachi Oguchi and has continued with world-renowned groups such as Kodo. Other performance styles have also emerged from specific communities in Japan. Kumi-daiko performance groups can presently be found not only in Japan, but in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Brazil.

Taiko performance consists of many components in technical rhythm, form, stick grip, clothing, and the particular instrumentation. Typically, ensembles will often use different types of barrel-shaped nagadō-daiko (長胴太鼓?) as well as smaller shime-daiko (締め太鼓?). In addition to drums, many groups use vocals, string, and woodwind instruments for accompaniment.



A woodprint block by Yashima Gakutei illustrating a woman playing a large, suspended drum called a tsuri-daiko.

One mythological story about the origin of taiko comes from the Nihon Shoki. According to myth, taiko originated from the Shinto goddess Ame no Uzume, the goddess of sunlight, Amaterasu, and her brother Susanoo, the god of the sea and storms.

In one interpretation,[2][3] Susanoo suddenly became angry and went into a rage from his place on the sea, bringing havoc to the land. His sister, Amaterasu, was so upset at this state of affairs, she fled into a cave and sealed it with a boulder, refusing to come out. The other gods gathered and knew that without sunlight, life on the Earth would decay and die. Accordingly, they tried many ways to bring Amaterasu out by begging, threatening, and even trying to physically move the boulder, but were unsuccessful.

Finally, the elder goddess Ame no Uzume, who had the appearance of an old lady, stepped forward and claimed she could bring Amaterasu out of the cave. Despite ridicule from the other gods at her aged appearance, she proceeded with her plan. Ame no Uzume emptied out a barrel of sake and jumped on the barrel's head, stomping on it furiously to create compelling, percussive rhythms. The gods were so moved by this music, they could not help but dance and sing. Their celebration became so noisy that Amaterasu peered out of the cave, and upon seeing the joyous scene, brought her light back to the world and banished Susanoo. From Ame no Uzume's performance, taiko music is thought to have been created.


The exact origin of the taiko drum is unclear, though there have been many suggestions. While some have suggested that ancient peoples of Japan used such drums during the Jōmon period,[4] there is archaeological evidence that taiko drums were used in Japan later during the Kofun period, possibly for communicative or ritualistic purposes.[5] This evidence was substantiated by the discovery of haniwa statues in the Sawa District of Gunma Prefecture, which depict two figures, each holding a two-headed drum with one stick.[5][6] The statues show one player beating one head of the drum with the stick, and the other using their hand to beat the other head.[7] These statues are considered to be oldest evidence of taiko performance in Japan.[7] Because the strong resemblance of Taiko drums to Chinese and Korean counterparts, people believe that the drums came from China or Korea around 300-900 CE.[7] Especially, certain court music styles, specifically gigaku and gagaku, were exported to Japan from the two countries.[8][9] In both traditions, dancers would be accompanied by several instruments that included similar drums.[9][10] Some even speculated that the taiko's precursor may have existed as far as in India sometime between 400–600 CE.[11]

Use in warfare[edit]

Hand-colored print of a woman playing a shime-daiko, circa 1885

In feudal Japan, taiko were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. In battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum.[12] During the Sengoku period, specific drum calls were used to communicate calls for retreating and advancing.[13] Other rhythms and techniques were detailed in period texts. According to the Gunji Yoshu, nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times is the call to advance and pursue an enemy.[14]

In traditional settings[edit]

Taiko drums have been incorporated in Japanese theater for rhythmic needs, general atmosphere, and decoration in certain settings. In the kabuki play, The Tale of Shiroishi and the Taihei Chronicles, scenes in the pleasure quarters are accompanied by taiko to create dramatic tension.[15] Noh theater performances also feature taiko drums[16][17] where performance consists of highly specific types of rhythmic patterns. One school of drumming for Noh theater teaches 65 basic patterns in addition to 25 special patterns and are categorized across several classes.[18] Differences between these patterns include changes in tempo, accent, dynamics, pitch, and function in the theatrical performance. Patterns are also often connected together in progressions.[18]

Taiko continue to be used in the classical tradition called gagaku typically performed at the Imperial Court in Kyoto. In gagaku, one component of the art form is traditional dance, which is guided in part by the rhythm set by the taiko.[19] Taiko have also played an important role in many local festivals across Japan.[20] Prior to kumi-daiko groups (i.e. taiko ensembles) emerging after World War II, taiko were typically used to accompany religious ritual music such as kagura, a form of Shinto dance, as well as Bon dance.[16][21]


A kumi-daiko group performing in Aichi, Japan wearing hachimaki.

In addition to the instrument itself, the term taiko also refers to the performance itself,[22][23] one style of which is called kumi-daiko (組太鼓?), or ensemble-style playing (as opposed to festival performances, rituals, or theatrical use of the drums).[24] Kumi-daiko was developed by Daihachi Oguchi in 1951.[1][4] He is considered a master performer and helped transform taiko performance from its roots in traditional settings in festivals and shrines.[25] Oguchi was trained as a jazz musician in Nagano, and at one point, he was given an old piece of written taiko music by a relative.[26] Unable to read the music because it was written in a traditional and esoteric notation,[26] Oguchi found help in order to transcribe the piece, and on his own, added rhythms and transformed the work to accommodate multiple taiko players on different-sized instruments.[27] Each instrument served a specific purpose that established present-day conventions in kumi-daiko performance.[28][29]

Oguchi's ensemble, Osuwa Daiko, incorporated these and other drums into their performances. They also devised novel pieces that were intended for non-religious performances.[26] Several other groups in Japan began to form through the 1950s and 1960s. Oedo Sukeroku Daiko formed in Tokyo in 1959,[30] and has been referred to as the first taiko group who began professionally touring.[31] Globally, kumi-daiko performance became more visible during the 1964 Summer Olympics hosted in Tokyo, when it was featured during the Festival of Arts event.[32]

Kumi-daiko was also developed through the leadership of Den Tagayasu, who gathered young men who were willing to devote their entire lifestyle to taiko playing and took them to Sado Island for rigorous training.[33][28] Tagayasu called their group "Za Ondekoza" or Ondekoza for short, and implemented a rigorous set of training exercises including long-distance running.[34][27] In 1975, Ondekoza was the first taiko group to tour in the United States. Their first performance occurred just after their group finished running the Boston Marathon while wearing their traditional uniforms.[35][36] In 1981, some members of Ondekoza did split from Den, and formed another group called Kodo under the leadership of Eitetsu Hayashi.[37] Kodo continued to use Sado Island for rigorous training and communal living, and went on to popularize taiko through frequent touring and collaborations with other musical performers.[38]

Estimates of taiko groups in Japan are varied; one estimate claims that there are 5000 taiko groups active in Japan,[39] but more conservative estimates place the number closer to 800 based on membership in the Nippon Taiko Foundation, the largest national organization of taiko groups.[40] Some classic pieces that have emerged from early kumi-daiko groups that continue to be performed include Isami-goma (勇み駒?, trans. "galloping horse") from Osuwa Daiko,[41] Yatai-bayashi (屋台囃子?, lit. "festival cart orchestra") from Ondekoza,[42] and Zoku (?, trans. "tribe") from Kodo.[43]


Categories of taiko
Byō-uchi-daiko Shime-daiko Okedō-daiko Gagakki
  • ō-daiko
  • chū-daiko
  • namitsuke
  • nichō-gakke
  • sanchō-gakke
  • yonchō-gakke
  • gochō-gakke
ojime da-daiko
hayashi-daiko nagauta shime-daiko nebuta tsuri-daiko
hira-daiko uta-daiko daibyoshi furi-tsuzumi
sumō-daiko tsuchibyoshi san-no-tsuzumi
miya-daiko nenbutsu kakko

Japanese taiko drums have been developed into a broad range of percussion instruments that are used in both Japanese folk and classical musical traditions.

Taiko have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size.[44] Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.

Taiko are categorized into three types based on how they are made. Byō-uchi-daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓?, lit. "tacked-struck drum") are constructed with the drum head nailed to the body. Tsukeshime-daiko (付締め太鼓?, lit. "tightened drum") are constructed with the head attached via iron rings, which are then tightened with ropes, bolts, or turnbuckles to the drum body.[17][45] Okedō-daiko (桶胴太鼓 lit. "bucket-bodied drum"?) use a narrower strip of wood in their construction, and its heads are tensioned using rope.[20] There is also a class of drums specific for use in gagaku performances called gagakki.[46]

Byō-uchi-daiko were historically made using a single piece of wood, but contemporarily, they are typically made using staves of wood.[47] The preferred wood is the Zelkova serrata or keyaki (?),[48] but a number of other woods are used, and even wine barrels have been used to create taiko drums.[49] Byō-uchi-daiko cannot be tuned,[50] and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from.

The typical byō-uchi-daiko is the nagadō-daiko (長胴太鼓 lit. "long-bodied taiko"?).[51] The nagadō-daiko is an elongated drum, roughly shaped like a wine barrel. The drum can also be played by more than one performer at the same time. Nagadō-daiko are available in a variety of sizes, and their head diameter is traditionally measured in shaku, which are roughly equivalent to measurements in feet. Head diameters range from 1 to 6 shaku (30 to 182 cm; 12 to 72 in). The chū-daiko is a medium-sized nagadō-daiko, and range from 1.8 to 2.6 shaku (55 to 79 cm).[51] Smaller byō-uchi-daiko, such as the "sumō-daiko" and "hayashi-daiko" also exist.

The drum in the back is an ō-daiko, with a length of 2.4 m (7.9 ft), a maximum diameter of 2.4 m, and a weight of 3 tons. This taiko is made out of a single piece of wood from a 1200-year-old tree.
An example of a byō-uchi-daiko, specifically a middle-sized chū-daiko, being played on a slanted stand.

The largest drums of many taiko ensembles are the ō-daiko (大太鼓). Ō-daiko means "large drum", but within any group, it describes the largest drum in an ensemble. Ō-daiko vary in size, though they are often as large as 6 shaku (180 cm; 6.0 ft) in diameter.[52][53] Made from a single piece of wood, some ō-daiko come from trees that are hundreds of years old. Some ō-daiko are also too difficult to move due to their size, and therefore permanently reside inside a temple or shrine.[51]

An example of a shime-daiko, tensioned using rope.

Shime-daiko are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. The tensioning system is usually hemp cords[54] or rope, but bolt or turnbuckle systems have been used as well.[17][45] The tsukeshime-daiko is a heavier version of this roughly snare drum-sized instrument and is generally available in five sizes, numbered 1 to 5 with names: "namitsuke", "nichō-gakke", "sanchō-gakke", "yonchō-gakke", and "gochō-gakke".[55] The namitsuke has the thinnest skins and the shortest body in terms of height, but skins increase in thickness and tension and body height increases in ascending order towards the gochō-gakke.[56] There is also a specific kind of shime-daiko used in Buddhist templates called an uta-daiko.[57] The head diameters of all shime-daiko sizes are approximately the same, around 27 cm (10.6 in).[54]

Okedō-daiko, or simply okedō, are stave-constructed, have a tube-shaped frame, and have heads which are attached by metal hoops and fastened either by rope or cords.[51][58] Okedō are played using the same or similar bachi as shime daiko. It can also be hand-played.[58] Okedō come in short- and long-bodied types.[51]

Several drums, called gagakki, are used in the Japanese theatrical form called gagaku.[59] Dadaiko have heads that are approximately 127 centimetres (50 in) in diameter. They are decoratively painted with flames and are sometimes referred to as kaen-daiko (火炎太鼓 kaendaiko?, lit. "flame drum"). Dadaiko are placed on a tall pedestal and are usually only played on the downbeat of the music.[59] The tsuri-daiko is a smaller drum, its head measuring about 55 cm (22 in) in diameter. They are typically played for bugaku performances.[60] Tsuri-daiko produce a lower sound, and can either be played sitting down[61] or standing up when the drum is suspended on a stand.[60] Tsuri-daiko performers typically use shorter mallets covered in leather knobs instead of bachi.[60] Tsuri-daiko can also be played simultaneously by two performers; while one performer plays on the head, another performer will use bachi on the body of the drum.[60] There are several other taiko used in gagaku such as the tsuzumi and kakko.[62]



Taiko drum manufacturing display in the Osaka Human Rights Museum.

Taiko construction has several components, including making and shaping of the drum body, preparing the drum skin, and tuning the skin to the drum head. Variations in the construction process often deals with the latter two parts of this process.[63] Historically, byō-uchi-daiko were crafted from tree trunks of the Zelkova that were purposefully dried out over multiple years, using particular techniques to prevent splitting. A master carpenter would then carve out the drum body by hand; the inner texture of the wood after carving would soften the tone of the drum when struck.[63][64] In contemporary times, taiko are carved out on a large lathe using wood staves[65] or logs[63] that can be shaped to either fit a larger or smaller drum body.[63] Drum heads can be left to air dry over a period of years, but some companies, such as the Asano Taiko Corporation, use large, smoke-filled warehouses to hasten the drying process.[64]

The skin of taiko drums are generally made from cowhide from Holstein cows aged about three or four years. Skins also come from horses, and bull skin is preferred for larger drums.[63][18] Thinner skins are preferred for smaller drums, and thicker skins are used for larger ones.[66] On some drums heads, a patch of deer skin is placed in the center, and serves as the target for many strokes during performance.[18] The hair is removed from the hide prior to fitting it to the drum body. To stretch the skin over the drum properly, one process requires the body to be held on a platform with several hydraulic jacks underneath it. The edges of the cowhide are secured to an apparatus below the jacks, and the jacks stretch the skin incrementally to precisely tension the skin to the drumhead.[67] Other forms of stretching, such as for the hayashi-daiko, use rope or cords with wooden dowels or an iron wheel to create appropriate tension for the instrument.[68][66]

Drum makers[edit]

This ōdaiko from a Kodo performance features a tomoe design on its skin.

Prior to widespread accessibility to the Internet, taiko construction was restricted to specific artisans and companies. One such company that created drums exclusively for the Emperor of Japan, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten in Tokyo, made taiko drums for several generations.[63] The Asano Taiko Corporation is another major taiko producing organization, stating that their tradition of construction has remained the same for the past 400 years.[69] The family-owned business started in Mattō, Ishikawa in making taiko for Noh theater in addition to military equipment, and later expanded to creating instruments for festivals during the Meiji period. Asano currently maintains an entire complex of large buildings commonly referred to as Asano Taiko Village,[69] and produces up to 8000 drums per year.[70] Presently, there is about one major taiko production company in each prefecture of Japan, though some regions have several companies, such as in the Naniwa Ward in Osaka.[71] Of the manufacturers in Naniwa, Taikoya Matabē is one of the most successful and is thought to have brought considerable recognition to the community and attracted many drum makers there.[72]


Scott Harding's Taiko performed live by the Singapore Wind Symphony's Percussion Ensemble which incorporates shime-daiko, drum kit, and kakegoe elements.

Taiko performance styles vary widely across groups in terms of the number of performers, their repertoire, instrument choices, and stage techniques.[73] However, a number of early groups have had broad influence on the tradition. For instance, many pieces developed by Ondekoza and Kodo are considered standards in many taiko groups.[74]


Kata (?, literally "form") is a term used to describe the posture and movement associated with taiko performance.[75][76] It bears similarity to the same term in martial arts, such as the idea that the hara (?, literally "stomach") is the center of being.[77] Some have argued that kata is the primary feature that distinguishes different taiko groups from one another, and is a key factor in judging the quality of the performance.[78] For this reason, many practice rooms intended for taiko contain several mirrors to provide visual feedback to players.[79] One important component of kata in taiko relates to keeping the body stabilized while performing, which is often accomplished by keeping a wide, low stance with the legs.[80]


Sticks for playing taiko, called bachi (?), are held in a number of styles. Bachi are held somewhat loosely by the thumb, middle, and index fingers in an overhead grip, similar to a matched grip.[81][82] In general, the fulcrum of the bachi rests between the performer's index finger and thumb, while the other fingers remain relaxed and slightly curled around the stick.[83] There are other grips that allow performers to play much faster rhythms for more technically-difficult pieces, such as the shime grip.[84]

The way the bachi are held is also significant in the context of Buddhism. For some groups, bachi represent a spiritual link between the body and the sky.[85]


This kumi-daiko performance at the Tsukiji Hongan-ji Festival involves several players switching between chū-daiko and also demonstrates usage of kakegoe. Performers also lean toward and away from the drum by adjusting the degree of bend in their left knee.

Kumi-daiko groups consist primarily of percussive instruments where each of the drums plays a specific role. Of the different kinds of taiko, the most common drum used in groups is the nagado-daiko.[5] Chū-daiko are common in taiko groups[80] and are intended to represent the main voice of the group,[55] shime-daiko are intended to set and change tempo,[55] and ō-daiko play a steady, underlying pulse[26] that consists of counter-rhythms to the shime part.[86]

Drums are not the only instruments played in the ensemble; other Japanese instruments are also incorporated in groups. Other kinds of percussion instruments include the atarigane (当り鉦?), a small gong that is roughly the size of one's hand, and is played with a small mallet.[87] In kabuki, the shamisen (三味線?) often accompanies taiko drums during the theatrical performance.[88] Of the woodwinds used, bamboo flutes known as the shakuhachi (尺八?)[89] and the shinobue (篠笛?) sometimes accompany kumi-daiko groups.[90][91]

Voiced calls or shouts called kakegoe (掛け声?, lit. "hung voice") or kiai (気合?, lit. "scream") are also commonly employed in taiko performance.[92][93] It is often used as encouragement to other players, or can be used as a cue for transitions or a change in dynamics in the performance such as an increase in tempo.[94]


There is a wide variety of traditional clothing that players wear during taiko performance. Common in many kumi-daiko groups is the use of the happi (法被?), a decorative, thin-fabric coat, and traditional headbands called hachimaki (鉢巻?).[95] Tabi (足袋?, split-toed shoes), momohiki (もも引き?, loose-fitting pants), and haragake (腹掛け?, "working aprons") are also typical.[96] During his time with the group Ondekoza, Eitetsu Hayashi suggested a loincloth called a fundoshi (?) be worn when performing for French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, who saw Ondekoza perform for him in 1975.[97] The Japanese group Kodo has sometimes worn fundoshi for its performances.[98]

Regional styles[edit]

Aside from the usual style of playing taiko, a number of distinct forms have emerged from different regions in Japan.


Two women wearing kimonos perform traditional Hachijō-daiko.

Hachijō-daiko is a unique style of Japanese drumming originating on Japan's Hachijō-jima.[99] Two styles of Hachijō-daiko emerged and have been popularized amongst island residents: An older tradition based on a historical account, and a newer tradition influenced by mainland groups and practiced by the majority of the islanders.[99]


Historically, the tradition seems to have originated as early as 1849 based on a journal kept by an exiled Japanese man named Kakuso Kizan. In a translation, Kizan noted some unique features of Hachijō-daiko, noting, "...a taiko is suspended from a tree while women and children gathered around". Kizan also observed that a player used either side of the drum while performing.[100] Illustrations from Kizan's journal showed some of features of Hachijō-daiko. Surprisingly, these illustrations also featured women performing. This was unusual because taiko performance elsewhere during this period was typically reserved for men. In fact, multiple teachers of the tradition have noted that the majority of performers were women; one estimate asserts that the tradition was dominated by female performers at a 3:1 ratio compared to male performers.[101]


A performance by San Jose Taiko in Hachijō-daiko style. On the upright drum, the o-se part (left) plays more complex rhythms while the shita-byōshi (right) plays a consistent underlying rhythm.

One tradition of Hachijō-daiko is thought to extend directly from the style reported by Kizan. This style is called Kumaoji-daiko, named after its creator Okuyama Kumaoji, a central performer of the style.[102] Kumaoji-daiko contains two players on a single drum, one of which provides the underlying beat, or shita-byōshi.[103] The other player, called the o-se, builds on this rhythmical foundation with unique and typically improvised musical composition. While there are specific types of underlying rhythms, the accompanying player is free to express an original musical beat.[103] Kumaoji-daiko also features an unusual positioning for taiko: The drums are sometimes suspended from ropes,[104] and historically, sometimes drums were suspended from trees.[100]

The contemporary style of Hachijō-daiko is called shin-daiko. Similar to Kumaoji-daiko, two players still play a single drum and are still assigned lead and accompanying roles. However, shin-daiko performances often have drums used on stands. The forerunners of shin-daiko also desired a more powerful sound, and so larger bachi made out of stronger wood are typically used. In terms of stance, performers are diagonally situated from the drum with their legs spread out. There are also differences in the types of rhythms used for the accompanying role.[105]


Miyake-daiko (三宅太鼓?, trans. "Miyake-style taiko") is a taiko drumming style that has spread in use among groups through Kodo, and is formally known as Miyake-jima Kamitsuki mikoshi-daiko (三宅島神着神輿太鼓?).[106] The word miyake comes from Miyake-jima, part of the Izu Islands, and the word Kamitsuki refers to the village where the tradition came from. Miyake-style taiko came out of performances for Gozu Tenno Sai—a traditional festival held annually in July in Miyake-jima since 1820. In this festival, players perform on taiko while portable shrines are carried around town.[107] The style itself is characterized in a number of ways. A nagado-daiko is typically set low to the ground and played by two performers, one on each side. However, instead of sitting, performers are standing and hold a stance that is also very low to the ground, almost to the point of kneeling.[107][108]

Outside of Japan[edit]


Taiko groups situated in Australia began forming in the 1990s.[109] TaikOz is Australia's premier taiko performance ensemble. The group was formed by Ian Cleworth, one of Australia's leading percussionists, and Riley Lee, a former Ondekoza member, and has been performing in Australia since 1997. It's the only professional Taiko performance group in Australia, regularly touring nationally, and has collaborated with artists both from Australia and Japan, as well as globally.[110] The first group in Australia, called Ataru Taru Taiko, was formed in 1995 by Paulene Thomas, Harold Gent, and Kaomori Kamei.[111]


"Zero" - composition from Kawasuji's style (Fukuoka - Japan) performed by Seiryu Daiko (Atibaia - Brazil).

Introduction of kumi-daiko performance in Brazil can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s in São Paulo.[112][113] Tangue Setsuko founded an eponymous group and was first group in Brazil,[113] and Setsuo Kinoshita later formed the group Wadaiko Sho.[114][115] Brazilian groups have mixed in other native and some African drumming techniques with taiko performance. One such piece developed by Kinoshita is called Taiko de Samba, which has been thought to emphasize the combination of both Brazilian and Japanese aesthetics in percussion traditions.[116] Taiko was also popularized in Brazil starting in 2002 through the work of Yukihisa Oda, a Japanese native who visited Brazil several times through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.[117]

The Brazilian Association of Taiko (ABT) suggests that there are approximately 150 taiko groups in Brazil and that about 10-15% of players are non-Japanese; some have estimated that about 60% of all players are women.[117]

North America[edit]

Taiko emerged in the United States starting in the late 1960s. The first taiko group in the United States, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, was formed in 1968 by Seiichi Tanaka, a postwar immigrant who studied taiko in Japan and brought the styles and teachings to America.[118][119] A year later, a few members of Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles led by Masao Kodani, the minister, decided to form another group called Kinnara Taiko.[120] San Jose Taiko later formed in 1973 in Japantown, San Jose under Roy and PJ Hirabayashi.[121] Taiko started to branch out in the eastern United States in the late 1970s.[122] This included formation of Denver Taiko in 1976 and Soh Daiko in New York in 1979. Many of these early groups lacked the resources to equip each member with a drum and resorted to using makeshift percussion materials such as rubber tires or creating taiko drums out of wine barrels.[122]

Japanese-Canadian taiko was formed in 1979 with Katari Taiko, and was inspired by the San Jose Taiko group.[123][124] Its early membership was entirely female.[3] Katari Taiko and future groups were also thought to represent an opportunity for younger, third-generation Japanese Canadians to explore their roots, redevelop a sense of ethnic community, and expand taiko into other musical traditions.[3]

There are no official counts or estimates of the number of active taiko groups in either the United States or Canada, as there is currently no governing body for taiko groups in either country. However, unofficial estimates have been made. In 1989, there were as many as 30 groups in the United States and Canada, 7 of which were in California.[125] One estimate suggested that around 120 groups are active in the United States and Canada as of 2001, many of which can be traced back to the San Francisco Taiko Dojo,[49] though a later estimate in 2005 suggested there were almost 200 groups in the United States alone.[39]

The Cirque du Soleil show Mystère in Las Vegas, Nevada, has featured taiko drumming.[126] Taiko drummers have been featured in commercial productions such as the 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse ad campaign,[127] and in events such as the 2009 Academy Awards and 2011 Grammy Awards.[128]

Related cultural and social movements[edit]

Certain peoples have used taiko as a means to advance a certain social and/or cultural movement. Such movements have been observed both within Japan and elsewhere in the world.

Gender conventions[edit]

Taiko performance has frequently been viewed as a male-dominated art form.[129][130][131] Historians of taiko argue that its performance is situated in masculine traditions. First, those who developed ensemble-style taiko on the Japanese mainland were men.[131] Second, through the influence of Ondekoza, the "ideal taiko player" was epitomized in images of the masculine peasant class,[131] particularly through the character Muhōmatsu in the 1958 film Rickshaw Man.[131][95] Masculine roots have also been attributed to "spectacular bodily performance"[132] where Japanese men's bodies are considered standard and women's bodies are assumed to be unable to meet the physical demands of playing.[133]

Prior to the 1980s, it was uncommon for Japanese women to perform on traditional instruments, including taiko drums; in fact, their participation had been systematically restricted.[131] In Ondekoza and in the early performances of Kodo, women were only performing dance routines either with or between taiko performances.[134] Thereafter, participation by females started to rise dramatically such that by the 1990s, they were equally represented and possibly exceeded the representation by men.[131] However, while the proportion of women participating in taiko has become substantial, some have expressed concern that women still do not perform in the same roles as their male counterparts and that taiko performance continues to be a male-dominated profession.[133] For instance, a member of Kodo was informed by the director of the group's apprentice program that women were permitted to play, but could only play "as women."[135] Other women in the apprentice program also recognized a gender disparity that affected what kinds of performance they were allowed to do. This perception was based on factors such as what pieces they were allowed to perform or in physical terms based on a male standard.[136]

Taiko performance by Japanese women has also served as a response to gendered stereotypes of being quiet,[3] subservient, or a femme fatale.[137] Through performance, some groups believe they are helping to redefine not only the role of women in taiko, but how women are perceived more generally.[31][137]


See also: burakumin

Individuals involved in the construction of taiko are usually considered part of the burakumin, a minority and marginalized class in Japanese society. Discrimination of this class dates back to the Tokugawa period for those occupied in leatherwork (among other professions that worked with animal skins), who were legally treated as outcasts. Although such official discrimination legally ended with the Tokugawa era, the burakumin continue to face social discrimination, such as scrutiny during employment or in marriage arrangements.[138] Drum makers have used their trade and success as a means to advocate for an end to discriminatory practices against their class.[139]

The ward of Naniwa in Osaka, home to a large proportion of burakumin, contains the Taiko Road (人権太鼓ロード lit. "Taiko Road of Human Rights"?) which represents their contributions.[71] Among other features, the road contains taiko-shaped benches representing their traditions in taiko manufacturing and leatherworking, and their impact on national culture.[138][72] The road ends at the Osaka Human Rights Museum, which exhibits the history of systematic discrimination against the burakumin amongst other minorities.[138] The road and museum was developed in part due an advocacy campaign led by the Buraku Liberation League and a local taiko group of younger performers called Taiko Ikari (太鼓怒り lit. "taiko rage"?).[71]

Engagement by sansei[edit]

A movement occurred in North America among several third-generation Japanese residents, called sansei (三世?). During World War II, second-generation Japanese residents, called nisei (二世?) faced discrimination in the United States and in Canada, and many were sent to internment camps on the basis of their race.[140][141] For this reason, during and after the war, Japanese residents were discouraged from activities such as speaking Japanese or forming ethnic communities,[141] and subsequently, sansei were often discouraged from engaging in Japanese culture and instead were raised to assimilate into larger society.[142] There were also prevailing stereotypes of Japanese people, from which sansei were seeking to escape or subvert.[142] Given these circumstances, the United States civil rights movement of the 1960s influenced sansei to reexamine their heritage by engaging in Japanese culture in their communities; one such approach was through taiko performance.[142][141]

Alternatively, some have also argued that the resurgence of taiko in the United States and Japan served different purposes: In Japan, performance was meant to represent the need to recapture sacred traditions while in the United States, it was meant to be an explicit representation of masculinity and power in Japanese-Americans.[143]

Notable groups[edit]

Notable performers[edit]

A solo performance by Eitetsu Hayashi in at a 2001 concert in Tokyo

Related terms[edit]

Bachi are sticks used specifically for taiko performance, and are slightly thicker than typical drum sticks.
Bachi (?, "drumsticks")
Wooden sticks used to play taiko drums.[145] These sticks can be made out of several different kinds of wood and are generally around 40 cm in length.[85]
Jiuchi (地うち?, "basic phrase")
Also simply referred to as ji, jiuchi is a basic rhythm used to support the main rhythm, and can be described as the meter or feel of a piece (being in a straight or swing meter). These rhythms are usually carried by the ō-daiko and shime-daiko.[146]
Ma (?, "interval") 
A Japanese term that can mean "interval" or "space". In taiko music, ma is the period between hits on the drum, and is considered to be an important component to performance. Since ensemble taiko is focused on rhythm, the ma of a piece is critical to adding drama, excitement, and tension.[85]
Oroshi (?, "wind blowing down from mountains") 
An oroshi is a type of single stroke roll often incorporated into taiko performance.[85] The player (or players) starts out playing slowly, leaving considerable space between strikes. Gradually the spacing between each hit becomes shortens, until the drummer is playing a rapid roll of hits.[85] Oroshi are also played as a part of theatrical performance, such as in Noh theater.[18]

See also[edit]

Taiko no Tatsujin[edit]

In 2001, a rhythm video game for arcades was developed by Namco in Japan called Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人?), or in North America,[147] Taiko: Drum Master and uses artificial taiko drums and sticks.[148] The game was later developed for Playstation 2 in 2002 and later for other consoles. The game uses scrolling visual cues to indicate when and what kind of drum stroke is required.[147][148] Generally, the game has been popular in Japan, but many of the games in the series have not been released elsewhere.[149][150]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

Anthropology and social movements
  • Barakan, P. "Discussion: A Woman Playing Japanese Drums". In Wadaiko, 124-135: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1995.
  • Bender, Shawn. "Of Roots and Race: Discourses of Body and Place in Japanese Taiko Drumming". Social Science Japan 8, no. 2 (2005): 197-212.
  • Chatenever, R. "A Different Drummer". Maui Scene (1993).
  • Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
  • Fujie, Linda. "Effects of Urbanization on Matsuri-Bayashi in Tokyo". Yearbook for Traditional Music, 15, no. East Asian Musics (1983): 38-44.
  • Fromartz, Samuel, and Lauren Greenfield. "Anything but Quiet: Japanese Americans Reinvent Taiko Drumming". Natural History 107, no. 2 (1998): 44-50.
  • Kagemusha, Taiko. "Taiko around the World". 2004.
  • Kobayashi, Tamai. "Heartbeat in the Diaspora: Taiko and Community". Fuse 12, no. 5/6 (1994): 24-26.
  • Konagaya, Hideyo. "Taiko as Performance: Creating Japanese American Traditions". The Japanese Journal of American Studies 12 (2001): 105-123.
  • Morechard, Francoise. "Emotions That Japanese Have Forgotten". In Wadaiko: Miyuki Ikeda + Koichi Inakoshi, ed. Ikanoshi Koichi. Tokyo: Kawada Shobo Shinsha, 1995.
  • Nakamura, Hajime, and Hajime Nakamura. Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan. London; New York New York: Kegan Paul International; Distributed by Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • Navarro, Mireya. "Young Japanese Americans Honor Ethnic Roots". New York Times National, 2004, 15.
  • Pelzel, John C. "Japanese Ethnological and Sociological Research". American Anthropologist 50, no. 1 (1948): 54-72.
  • Terada, Yoshitaka. "Shifting Identities in Taiko Music". In Transcending Boundaries: Asian Musics in North America, ed. Yoshitaka Terada, 22, 37-59. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2001.
  • "The Cultural Properties Protection Law and Japan’s Folk Performing Arts". Asian Folklore Studies 53, no. 2 (1994): 211-225.
  • Uyechi, Linda. "University Taiko: Roots and Evolution". In Symposium on North American Taiko, Stanford Taiko Invitational. Stanford, CA.
  • Yano, Christine R. "The Reintegration of Japanese Bon Dance in Hawaii after World War II". Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 6, Asian Music in North America (1985): 151-162.
  • "Hokubei No Taiko Sangyou". [The Taiko Industry in America]. Taikology, no. 14 (1998): 58-61.
  • Gould, Michael. "Taiko Classification and Manufacturing". Percussive Notes (1998): 12-20.
  • Kodani, M. "Making a Taiko". Horaku (1979).
  • Mallin, Lorne. "Wood and Skin: The Making of Taiko Drums". Intersect (1993): 26-29.
  • Thompson, Woody. "Two Custom Drum Makers: William Kooienga and Paul Namkung". Percussive Notes, PAS (1998): 6-10.
General history
  • Combs, Jo Anne. "Japanese-American Music and Dance in Los Angeles, 1930-1942". Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 6, no. Asian Music in North America (1985): 121-149.
  • Harich-Schneider, Eta. A History of Japanese Music. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.
  • Hobsbawm, E. J., and T. O. Ranger. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • Hiroji, Naoe. "Post-War Folklore Research Work in Japan". Folklore Studies 8 (1949): 277-284.
  • McCullough, Helen Craig (ed.). The Taiheiki: A Chronicle of Medieval Japan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959.
  • Komatsu, Shigemi. Zenkunen Kassen Ekotoba. Heiji Monogatari Emaki. Yūki Kassen Ekotoba Zoku Nihon No Emaki; 17. Tōkyō: Chūo Kōronsha, 1992.
  • Marra, Michael F. Representations of Power: The Literary Politics of Medieval Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.
  • Morinaga, Maki Isaka. Secrecy in Japanese Arts: "Secret Transmission" as a Mode of Knowledge. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • "Nihon No Taiko No Bunrui Kaisetsu". [A Cultural Analysis of Japanese Drums]. Minzoku Geino, no. 11 (1990).
  • Ong, E. "An Ancient Big Bang Theory". The Stanford Daily: Intermission (1994).
  • Snodgrass, Judith. Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Thornbury, Barbara E. "From Festival Setting to Center Stage: Preserving Japan’s Folk Performing Arts". Asian Theatre Journal 10, no. 2 (1993): 163-178.
  • Tonomura, Hitomi. Community and Commerce in Late Medieval Japan: The Corporate Villages of Tokuchin-Ho. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992.
  • Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971.
  • Taiko Resource: Taiko Overview and history. http://www.taiko.com/taiko_resource/history.html
  • Bender, Shawn. "Drumming from Screen to Stage: Ondekoza's Ōdaiko and the Reimagining of Japanese Taiko". The Journal of Asian Studies (2010), 69: 843-867.
  • Coutts-Smith, Mark. Children of the Drum: The Life of Japan’s Kodo Drummers. Hong Kong: Lightworks Press, 1997.
  • Chun, Ian. "Gocoo: Reinventing Taiko". Metropolis, May 17, 2006. Accessed July 9, 2006.
  • Image Entertainment (Firm), and Kodō (Musical group). Kodō. 1 videodisc (69 min.). Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment, 2001.
  • Holender, Jacques. Kodo: Heartbeat Drummers of Japan. New York: Rhapsody Films, INC, 1991.
  • O'Mahoney, Terry. "Kodo: Japanese Taiko Masters". Percussive Notes: PAS 36, no. 1 (1998): 6-10.
  • Oguchi, Daihachi. "Tenko: Osuwa Taiko". (1980).
  • Thalheimer, Andrew. "Jazzing up Tradition". In Japan Notes: Japan America Society of St. Louis, 8, 2-4, 2003.
  • Ulrich, A. "Pounding Ecstasy". San Francisco Focus (1993): 67-68.
  • Art Lee. "Beginners Taiko Pamphlet", Online Resource. September 2003
  • Asai, Susan Miyo (1985). "Hōraku: A Buddhist Tradition of Performing Arts and the Development of Taiko Drumming in the United States". Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 4: 163–172. 
  • Bando, Makoto. Hajimete No Wadaiko Ensō [First Japanese Taiko Performance]. Tokyo: Erukurabu, 2003.
  • Kan, Toko. Textbook for Japanese Taiko Basic Theory and Practice. Matto: Asano Taiko.
  • Kōno, Yuki. Yasashiku Manaberu Wadaiko KyōHon [Easy Learning Taiko Instruction Book]. Tokyo: Sekibunsha.
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Music and instrumentation
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Personal accounts
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Japanese theatre
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Other resources
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  • Hayase, S. "Taiko". East Wind (1985): 46-47.
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  • Morita, Toshiro. Za Taiko: Morita Toshiro Shashin Shu [The Taiko: The Photos of Toshiro Morita]. Tokyo: Ōtsuki Shoten, 1989.
  • Muromoto, W. "Thunder in Wahiawa". The Hawaii Herald, 21 February 1986, 10-11.
  • Nagauta. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1973.
  • Nihon No Taiko. Nagano: Osuwa Gakuen, 1994.
  • Okihiro, G. " 'Drumatic' Excitement". Silhouette (1988): 7-8.
  • Taiko No Bīto Ni Miserarete [Enchanted by the Taiko Beat]. Tokyo: Ongaku Shuppansha, 1999.
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  • "Taiko". In Nihon Kokugo Daijiten. Tokyo: Sōgakukan, 2001.
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  • Satō, Fumio. Shi to Minyo to Wadaiko To [Poems and Folk Songs and Japanese Taiko]. Tokyo: Tsukuba Shobo, 2001.
  • Suravech, Glen. "Bang the Drum!" Rafu Shimpo, 26 March 1992.
  • Takemoto, Arthur. Buddhist Taiko. Hou-u: Dharma Rain, July 8, 2004. Accessed May 9, 2006.

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